71 years ago today, a new era began. This era would spark everlasting change in the aviation industry — but the plane that started it all would fade into history and become only a memory. Today I present to you, the story of the De Havilland Comet.
History of the Comet
Before the end of WWII, a government-appointed committee deemed it best to use the new technology called “jet engines” instead of propellers to lead development in the ever changing transport industry. Geoffrey De Havilland was a member of this committee, and a jet aircraft was later developed at Hatfield by R. E. Bishop, the chief designer. The aircraft was specified to fly at 500kts at 40,000ft, which was unheard of at the time. Development of the project was started in 1945 and was called “Swallow” by the Ministry of Supply, and “TG283” by De Havilland. Later, the name “Comet” was revived from a 1934 racing aircraft and the name stuck. Geoffrey’s son, Geoffrey was the test pilot, but he was tragically killed in September in the crash of the second prototype (TG306). Jon Cunningham then be alien the new chief test pilot for the project.
The worlds first jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet, took to the skies on July 27, 1949 at Hatfield Airport. Pilot John Cunningham (on his 30th birthday), began with a few taxi-runs, before listing into the air. The press had left by the time the aircraft climbed up to 10,000ft, and then came back down to 100ft for a flyby over the runway. They then landed after a 31 minute flight. Although it was short, these 31 minutes changed aviation forever.
Comet 1 prototype at Hatfield Credit.
What did this mean for aviation?
The De Havilland Comet was the first jet airliner, and since it was so revolutionary, this technology spread throughout the world. The relatively new technology of jet engines quickly vastly improved over nether next few years and became widely used in only a few years. BOAC, one of the primary customers, reported that 5 Comets could to the work of 8 piston-powered airliners.
As the Comet was the first jet airliner, everyone wanted to get their hands on it, including multiple airlines. With other jet airliners appearing around the market, De Havilland had to improve. This resulted in the development of the Comet variants 2, 3, and 4. Despite this, and the bad safety record of the Comet, it wasn’t nearly as popular as other airliners such as the 707 and DC-8.
The one-of-a-kind engine design of the Comet. The ghost engines used were encased inside the wing. Credit.
What happened to the Comet?
As many of you know, all good things must come to an end. Although the Comet was a revolution, it suffered from structural failures and metal fatigue. This was partly due to how the aircraft was shaped, especially around the square windows, which caused unnecessary stress on the metal, causing it to fail.
This issue was mostly fixed with the later variants, such as the Comet 4. But the Comet had suffered from having a bad reputation that people would rather fly piston airliners, and as airlines we’re changing over to jets, they ordered planes such as the 707, DC-8, BAC-11 and the Trident. The Comet quickly lost popularity, and was eventually forgotten as even its vastly more popular competitors became dated and old. The Comet’s last revenue flight was conducted by Dan Air in 1980, and the final flight was in 1997 by the Royal Aircraft Establishment. After this, the comet became
BOAC Comet 4 taxiing to the gate. Credit.
The Comet was truly something else, and it revolutionized the aviation industry forever. It’s so sad to see such an amazing plane be relegated to just a page in a history book or a topic on the IFC. G-CDPA is the only surviving aircraft that’s in taxable condition, and there’s none flying today, which is sad to hear.
It was so fun to learn and write about this amazing aircraft, and I hope you enjoyed reading. Have a great day, IFC!
Credits and sources
(Photos have their respective credits below them).